Restless hearts

Every year – when I was a pastor to youth in the Bay Area in California – I took a large group of young people to a small village in Mexico. We would camp right in the center of town next to the church. Besides conducting a week long vacation Bible school for the children and nightly worship services, over the years, we built a new church and a public play ground in the park.

When I think back over those years, and reminisce about what we accomplished for the Kingdom of God, I believe the greatest impact took place in the hearts and minds of each American teenager, as they encountered a dichotomy. They were experiencing the happiest people they had ever met, who possessed nothing of material value. These folks were dirt poor, yet they were genuinely happy, and their lives were full of purpose and meaning.

Gallup did a survey of 132 countries and found those with lower per capita economic output actually had higher rankings for meaning and happiness, as well as lower suicide rates. It turns out that those countries are more religious, giving people a sense of purpose.

Over 1600 years ago Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Despite that reality, today, increasing numbers of Americans, are looking away from God and the church, seeking to construct their own meaning. Yet those self-made answers rarely quiet our restless hearts. As Pascal said, “It is in vain, oh men, that you seek within yourselves the cure for all your miseries. All your insight has led to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you discover the true and the good.”

The Christian worldview, based on biblical revelation, answers all of life’s big questions, explaining both our human dignity and our depravity. The Bible also directs us to a fixed reference point by which we can orient our lives: God Himself. “Man’s chief end,” the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

This much is for certain, our hearts certainly won’t find rest in money.

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Against all odds

“I’ll take ‘The most persecuted religious group in the world today’ for 800 Alex.” If that were an actual Jeopardy question, do you know what the correct answer would be? The answer in terms of sheer numbers and sheer horror might surprise you. It’s Christians. Specifically Christians living in Muslim-majority countries. I’m not talking about Christians fighting against Christmas or Easter being marginalized to simply a winter and spring holiday; I’m talking about “know your place or we’re going to kill you” persecution. And, what’s really tragic, is the Western mainstream media barely acknowledges that it’s happening.

And, don’t think for a second that the persecution of Christians and Christianity is limited to the Middle East. North Korea, China, Cuba, and Somalia are just of few of the countries that are constantly monitoring Christian activity, and like the game of Whack a Mole, stand ready with the big club, anxious to beat it back into extinction.

But against all odds, the Christian church is thriving. Underground, or above ground, new disciples of Jesus Christ are made every day, as the gospel continues to advance in the world.

Jesus explained to His disciples that this is the way the gospel always advances – side by side with every cause for pessimism is evidence for joy and everlasting hope. Maybe the best illustration of it is His comparing the kingdom of heaven, in Matthew 13:24, to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.

In his summary of the meaning of the parable, Jesus essentially says that as history moves along, evil will mature and become ever more evil, while godliness will also mature and become ever more godly, and ever more distinctive.

But, here’s the good news; though at times it seems like evil is winning the day, when God say’s “Game over!”, there will be a harvest. At that time, “the weeds will be gathered and burned, and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Evil may win many battles, but the good news is that God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ, will win the war! Thanks be to God.

March 21, 2017 – Muslim converts breathe new life into Europe’s struggling Christian churches

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:43

Feelings verses facts

Let me begin by explaining why I’m so sensitive about this. I went to Brigham Young University (BYU) on a full scholarship for football in the early 70s. I went there as a Christian. Not knowing a lot about Mormonism, and willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, I dove into their teachings. At first it seemed like it might be just another Christian denomination. After all, they believed and studied the Bible just like I did. But I soon realized that they interpretation of the Bible was very different than mine.

That set me on an interesting journey for the truth. Whose interpretation is correct? We can’t both be right. And, besides, this is serious stuff! We’re not talking about global warming here, we’re talking about eternity. When it comes to saving my soul, I don’t want to be close to getting it right, I want to absolutely get it right.

During the in depth study that ensued, I discovered that my interpretation of God’s Word was in fact correct. Their unique interpretation of the Bible was the result of their need to make it fit, or agree with, some of their heretical beliefs. If those beliefs were concerning minor issues like sprinkling or dunking with baptism it would be one thing. No, their differences had to do with the big stuff, like salvation.

Now it was serious. Now, in reality, it was Satanic. Why do I say that? Because, Satan is the master counterfeiter. He knows that effective deception depends on getting it as close to the original as possible, but in the end, the transaction fails.

My experience with Mormonism forever changed how seriously I handle the truth of God’s Word. Trust me, the Bible is not something to be toyed with. But toyed with it is in the book, and now the movie “The Shack”. When you blatantly redefine the Trinity and salvation you’re playing with fire. And, yes, I mean the fires of hell. Ironically, those two are the exact doctrines that Joseph Smith Jr. redefined with Mormonism, and millions are paying the price for it.

Even more concerning is the number of Bible believing Christians that don’t seem to have a problem with The Shack’s message. They get so caught up in the emotional heart tugging story of forgiveness that they’re willing to ignore the heretical depiction of the Trinity and the implied message of universalism; the belief that no one will be sent to hell.

The tragedy, as Al Mohler puts it, is that Christians have lost the art of biblical discernment, which must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.

Clearly, Satan’s most effective tactic to deceive Christians, is to tug on their heart strings. Lead with feelings, and the facts will be overlooked.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.” Galatians 1:6

Christmas and shepherds

Unprecedented! How odd! Indisputably, the single most important event in human history, the birth of God in human flesh, took place with no media build up, no marketing campaign, no paparazzi, no press.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a brief, yet spectacular announcement given by the angels with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God. But wait, who was in the audience for that miraculous announcement from the sky? Did you say, shepherds? You’re kidding right?

In those days, shepherds occupied the bottom rung of society’s ladder, and the average citizen of Judea wanted little to do with keepers of sheep. No one could have predicted that the first people to hear of Jesus outside of His parents would be a motley crew of shepherds. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord appeared to these men, who got to watch the greatest sound-and-light show of all time.

In Philip Keller’s book – A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 – He talks about the “cast down sheep,” which is a sheep on its back that cannot get up again under its own strength. Such sheep may bleat a little for help, but usually they just lie there with their legs flailing about, and they die, if they are not rescued.

That’s the best picture, the best metaphor to describe Christmas. For it is the state of all of humanity, stuck in their sin and unable to turn themselves right side up. God comes to the rescue, not as a Knight in shining armor, a lowly shepherd. He came to seek and to save the lost. Having become like us, the Good Shepherd knows the human condition and all its weaknesses. Rejoice, that the mighty King of heaven, is also a tender shepherd who loves each of His lambs deeply.

So this Christmas morning, when most are thinking about opening gifts… “What did I get, what did I get?” Recognize that, in Christ – you’ve already received the greatest gift of all – eternal life.

“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!”“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:13-14

Merry Christmas

God with us

There are many beautiful hymns that have been composed in celebration of the birth of Christ. One of my favorites is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It may have been composed as early as the 8th century. The melody appears to have originated in France in the 15th century.

The hymn is based on a prophecy in Isaiah 7, a prophecy that looks forward to the birth of a child who will be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

In the Garden of Eden, God was present with the two humans He had created, but as a result of their sin, mankind was exiled from God’s presence. From that point forward, the restoration of God’s presence with us, His creatures, become the underlying theme developed throughout Scripture.

In reality, the Bible is a love story, unfolding God’s incredible plan to fix what appeared to be forever ruined by Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience.

And then, in the fullness of time, Jesus is born, and Matthew tells us that His birth took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet Isaiah, quoted in Mathew’s gospel. Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. In Him all of the Old Testament types and promises that looked forward to the restoration of God’s presence with His people are fulfilled. Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

The words of the hymn express the hopes of Israel throughout history, for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise. We don’t often think about the fact that we have it sooooo much easier than those living before Christ. We’re able to look back to the fulfillment of those promises – to that most incredible, awe-inspiring moment in history, the birth of Immanuel… the incarnation of the Son of God Himself.

So, based on that fact, here’s my question. As a Christian, do you live every day of your life, celebrating the fact that God is with you, living and working through you?

Christmas, celebrates the joyous fact that In Jesus, God established His presence once again with His people, and He is with us always – to the end of the age.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” Matthew 1:23

Only one solution

I grew up in church. We lived in the country, not the city. Our social life as a family totally revolved around church. I never missed a Sunday service, not even on vacation. I knew all the Bible stories inside and out.

There were times when I wasn’t really paying that much attention in Sunday school, because I felt like I’d heard the lesson many times before. My friends and I used to joke that if we were ever put on the spot, meaning you were suddenly asked a question that you were not sure of the correct answer, just say, “Jesus”. That way you’d never be wrong because Jesus is the answer to everything.

As silly as that might seem, the longer I live on this earth, the more inclined I am to believe it’s true. Now, with that said, let me state the obvious. The correct answer to “What is 2 + 2?” is not Jesus. But more often than not, when it comes to big life issues – the world’s problems, society’s problems, one’s persona problems – the answer really is Jesus.

No one understood that better than the committed and persistent friends of the paralyzed man of the story told in Mark chapter two.

Hearing that Jesus was coming to Capernaum, people gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door. This presented a real problem for the paralyzed man and his friends. Because they realized this was their one big opportunity, and maybe the only shot they had.

His friends knew that the only solution to his paralysis, was Jesus! What I love about this story is their persistent faith. Their unyielding commitment to their friend’s deliverance. They simply would not give up, not for a minute. There had to be a way in and they were going to find it, even if it meant – and it did – digging through the roof, and lowering him by rope on top of the crowd.

And make no mistake about it – Everyone was amazed, and Jesus was impressed!

What happens next is epic! The paralytic and his persistent friends came for one solution, and got two. Jesus began his two-part miracle by saving his soul, after all that effects his life forever, even if he would have remained paralyzed for the rest of his life here on earth, he still wins big-time. Because eventually he gets a new body. But because of his faith, because he really believed that Jesus was the only solution to his problem, he got both spiritual and physical healing.

So that leaves just one question. Do you believe that Jesus is the only answer to life’s big problems? Do you believe it enough to be the unyielding and persistent friend who helps someone going to hell, find eternal life?

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Mark 2:5

Truth is Like a Lion

When it comes to sharing your faith in Jesus Christ, do you play offence or defense? Do you simply and enthusiastically tell others about Jesus, and what He accomplished on the cross, or do you find yourself holding back from that conversation with others, because you feel like you have to defend it?

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Truth is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.”

There’s a prevailing attitude among many Christians today that we must defend the truth of God’s Word. And while it’s certainly true that the truth about Christ in our society is being ridiculed and ignored, I don’t think God has called me to defend His Word, as much as He’s called me to simply share it.

When you share you faith, you’re marching down the field, on offense, toward the goal of watching GOD do a miracle in the heart of the one you love enough to share the truth with. Too many Christians today think that witnessing is about playing defense – with fists out, they bravely hold their ground by beating back the arguments of the unbelievers.

The Apostle Paul spoke of finishing the race and completing the task that the Lord Jesus had given him. And what was that task? The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

The truth needs no defense, it only needs a voice. The problem of our time, said best by G.K. Chesterton, is that “the truth hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it’s been unheard and left untried.”

This week, consider this question; when was the last time that you simply told someone, the reason for the hope that you have Jesus Christ?

After all, who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and let it defend itself!

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” 2 Corinthians 3:12

A Mighty Fortress

It was a hot summer day – the off season of pro football – and I was stuck, along with everyone else, in a long line of cars, waiting for a train, temporarily stopped on the tracks ahead of us. Those of us who lived there knew exactly what was going on. It was the Railroad Company’s way of getting the voter’s attention, concerning an effort to get an overpass built.

So, to enlighten everyone on why an overpass was needed, a train would frequently and mysteriously stop on the section of road blocking the main exit out of town, right in the middle of rush hour.

We all knew the drill. We’d be stuck there about fifteen minutes before the train would slowly move on. We all took it in stride, annoyed, but relaxed. That was not the case, however, with those new to the situation.

And, on this occasion, clearly, I had a newbie in front of me. How did I know? Well, assuming that the train would be moving on quickly, he wanted to keep his car running and creep forward a few feet at a time. But the car in front of him, like most of the rest of us, had turned his car off.

What happened next took me by surprise! The “let me keep inching forward guy” got out of his car and was storming up to the car in front of him. He actually opened the door and pulled the “shut his car off” guy out onto the road. He was screaming in his face fist clenched, ready to hit him.

Enough of this, I said to myself. I quickly unfolded out of my small sports car, all 6 foot 7 and 280 pounds of me, and moved quickly toward the showdown. I will never forget the look in the eyes of the terrified stranger, about to be pummeled by the road-raged maniac. In an instant, he went from great fear, to great relief. For he knew that he was about to be rescued!

That feeling of panic-to-relief is exactly what we as Christians experience every time Satan comes after us with his fists clinched. But in the words of Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” we say with confidence; “The Prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”

So the next time Satan tries to bully you, remember this, Satan may be the prince of this world, but Jesus is the King.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

How important is the truth?

Today, it’s not so much what people believe, as it is how sincerely they say they believe it. What are facts anyway but just someone else’s opinions?

More and more people today really don’t care about the truth. They’re more concerned with how it all feels. It’s all about the experience.

Sincerity is great, but misguided or misapplied sincerity is worthless. In fact, it’s much more dangerous than that. Imagine a nurse making her daily rounds of giving meds to each patient on her floor. She rolls her cart of prescriptions into a room, pulls up the clipboard hanging at the foot of the bed and reads what medicine is to be injected into the patient. Then she gently and lovingly injects the patient with the medicine prescribed. Almost immediately after she pulls the needle out of his arm, the patient goes into cardiac arrest and dies. She’s horrified – how could this have happened? She finds out that someone had put the wrong chart on that patient’s bed.

It doesn’t matter how passionate or honest a nurse is when treating a patient if she uses the wrong medicine. She can do her job with the utmost sincerity and end up with a patient who is sincerely dead. Practicing good medicine is all about focusing on facts not feelings. If I’m going into surgery and am informed I can make a choice between two physicians — a mediocre surgeon with excellent people skills or an excellent surgeon who is difficult to get along with — I’m choosing the latter! I’ll always take knowledge and skill over bedside manner.

C. S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Is everyone a child of God?

Is everyone a child of God? The answer is emphatically no! The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. The Bible says that God is the Father, not of all, but of those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In so doing they become adopted into God’s forever family. It is not something everyone enters into by natural birth. It is a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus Christ.

In essence God gives us a choice, either we accept God’s offer of adoption, or we remain an orphan. This is the most important decision anyone will ever make in this life.

It is a very unique experience becoming a child of God here on earth. It’s supposed to be life changing. Assuming that you have accepted God’s offer to adopt you into His forever family, and have become a child of God, has it really made that much of a difference in your life? Do your still-orphan friends here on earth even realize that you were adopted? Do they see a difference in your life verses theirs? Do you?

J.I. Packer said, in his timeless book Knowing God, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

Wow! That’s a strong statement. So how about you? Does that statement describe how you understand Christianity and your relationship with God?

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural decent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)”

As one former orphan to another, let’s live our lives, daily celebrating that we are a children of God.

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12-13